What the defense argues about Arbery’s murder
Atlanta – Travis and Greg McMichael said they armed themselves and ran after Ahmaud Arbery because they thought he was a thief, and they wanted to arrest him and hold him until the police arrived.
When the 25-year-old black man turned and fought during the chase, they said Travis McMichael shot him in self-defense.
This was confirmed by the defense at the trial of three white men accused of killing Arbery, who was killed three times in February 2020 near Brunswick, on the Georgia coast. McMichaels, father and son, and neighbor William “Rudy” Brian are charged with murder and other crimes.
Defense strategy relies on Georgia’s self-defense and citizen arrest laws.
What does the defense say?
Greg McMichael, 65, told police he saw Arbery “pull an ass” in front of his house and believed he had committed burglaries nearby. McMichael ran inside, grabbed a gun, and yelled at his son, who came out with a shotgun.
The two men jumped into a pickup truck and chased Arbery through their split. Arbery was on foot.
Seeing the chase in progress, Brian climbed into his own truck and recorded a video on his mobile phone as he joined the chase.
Brian, 52, told an investigator that he used his truck multiple times to block Arbery and get him off the road. Greg McMichael told the police that he yelled at Arbery to stop.
At the end, Brian’s video shows Greg McMichael in the bed of his pickup truck with a revolver and Travis McMichael, 35, out of the truck with a rifle.
Defense attorneys say Arbery lunged at Travis McMichael and his rifle, and that’s when Travis McMichael shot him.
What is citizen arrest?
Greg McMichael tells a police officer that they chased Arbery to keep him from leaving the subdivision. He said they wanted to “hold him” until “the police came and examined him.”
State law said in the books at the time: “Any ordinary person may arrest the offender if the crime is committed in his presence or within the limits of his direct knowledge. If the crime is a felony and the offender is fleeing or trying to escape, an ordinary person may arrest him based on reasonable and probable grounds for suspicion.” .
The actual words “citizen’s arrest” did not appear in the law, and there was no obligation for a person who was trying to detain someone to declare this intent. Republican Governor Brian Kemp signed legislation mostly repealing the law in May.
Arbery has appeared several times in a security video inside a house under construction near the McMichaels’ home.
Robert Rubin, McMichael’s attorney, said in his opening statement that Travis McMichael had seen him outside the house about two weeks ago, and was afraid Arbery had grabbed a gun that night when he reached into his pocket.
Robin said that Arbery’s behavior in the unfinished house would cause a rational person to believe that a crime had been committed. This is also why the McMichaels feel they need to arm themselves, he said.
In her opening statement, Prosecutor Linda Donekowski said Arbery was unarmed and gave the men no reason to suspect a wrongdoing. She said they assumed he had committed a crime.
Melissa Redmon, a former attorney general and now a law professor at the University of Georgia, said it can be difficult to convince a jury that there is a probable cause to proceed with a citizen’s arrest.
“It depends on what they seem to have known at the moment they encountered Mr. Arbery or rather the lack of information they had at the moment they encountered Mr. Arbery,” she said.
How did Arbery’s murder repeal the law?
The Citizen’s Arrest Act was approved in 1863 to capture fugitive slaves and was later used to justify the killing of blacks.
There has always been pressure to cancel it. Arbery’s shooting heightened national protest against racial injustice and prompted state lawmakers to take action.
Annulment Act states that witnesses and bystanders cannot detain persons. Restaurant and store employees can still detain people they think have stolen something or who leave without paying. Licensed security guards and private investigators can also detain people.
Lethal force can only be used to detain a person if it is in self-protection, home protection, or preventing a forcible felony.
Although the Abolition Act has gone into effect, the defense is able to cite the old law because it was in effect at the time of Arbery’s murder.
What constitutes self defense?
Robin said Arbery’s death was tragic. But at this point, Travis McMichael is acting in self-defense. He did not want to meet Ahmed Arbery physically. “He was just trying to stop him for the police,” Robin said.
Georgia law permits the use of lethal force if a person reasonably believes that another person is about to kill, injure, or seriously injure another person. There is no obligation to step back first, because Georgia recognizes a person’s right to “stand your ground”.
But Georgia law does not allow a person to use force if he or she is the aggressor, unless he or she has withdrawn from combat and has effectively reported it, and the other person continues to use or threaten to use force against them.
Robin said that when he raised the gun, Travis McMichael was hoping to “calm the situation,” but Arbery turned toward McMichael “swinging hard” with his fists. Robin said that McMichael shot him out of fear that Arbery would get the gun and shoot him or his father.
Redmond said prosecutors would likely argue that Arbery was allowed to defend himself against a man who was stalking him and who was aiming his gun at him. A Georgia FBI agent said during a June hearing that he believed Arbery acted in self-defence.
Ultimately, Redmond said, the jury will have to consider the moments before the guns go off and determine which man was the assailant, and therefore not legitimately acting in self-defence.
Associated Press writer Ross Bynum in Brunswick, Georgia contributed to this report.
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